Jan 222015
 
THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


ZELDA POPKIN – Death Wears a White Gardenia. J. B. Lippincott, hardcover, 1938. Red Arrow Books #5, digest-sized paperback. 1939. Dell #13, paperback, 1943.

   Mary Carner, department-store detective, appeared in five books, of which this is the first. At least in this novel, the store is Jeremiah Blankfort and Company in New York City, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary with an appearance by the Governor’s wife.

   Also adding to the festivities is the discovery of a corpse that turns out to have been Andrew McAndrew, credit manager of Blankfort’s and a chap, it would appear, given to blackmailing married customers who charge items for their girl friends. He also had his own girl friends, one of whom is carrying his child.

   The suspects are limited to those who were working in the store the previous evening before the anniversary celebration, but that is nonetheless a rather large number. McAndrew’s fed-up wife and brother-in-law and a junky but talented shoplifter add to the total.

   Mary Carner is convinced that the murder was committed by an employee of Blankfort’s. That part of the investigation is stymied since the store’s owner will not allow the employees to be questioned until the sale day is over. This is, after all, still in the depths of the Depression, and the department store’s finances are rather rocky.

   Better than Spencer Dean’s department-store mysteries, but not much better. One hopes that Popkin improved in her later novels.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 12, No. 1, Winter 1990.


       The Mary Carner (Whittaker) series –

Death Wears a White Gardenia. Lippincott, 1938.
Murder in the Mist. Lippincott, 1940.

Time Off for Murder. Lippincott, 1940.
Dead Man’s Gift. Lippincott, 1941.

No Crime for a Lady. Lippincott, 1942.

   Zelda Popkn wrote two other works of crime fiction, So Much Blood (Lippincott, 1944), and A Death of Innocence (Lippincott, 1971) which was the basis of a TV movie of the same title. (CBS, 1971 with Shelley Winters and Arthur Kennedy).

   For more on the author herself, here’s a link to her Wikipedia page.

 Posted by at 9:25 pm
Jan 222015
 

WILLIAM HEUMAN – The Range Buster. Gold Medal 429. Paperback original; 1st printing, 1954; 2nd printing, Gold Medal 944, 1959.

   Sometimes it is difficult to find a hook with which to start a review, and this is one of those times. The Range Buster is a totally average western, but one that starts with a bang — Cole Faraday, fresh up from Texas to claim his dead brother’s ranch, is shot at from the house by someone inside with a rifle — and never really lets up until it’s over, with Cole having just prevailed over the bad guys — at great physical damage to himself — and getting the girl he never knew he was dreaming of all those years he making a living alone.

   What he finds that he’s walking into is a situation that always seems to arise when two big ranchers are competing for a smaller piece of land that has steady source of water — his brother’s — a feud that threatens all of the other smaller ranchers farther down the valley.

   Cole Faraday, skilled with a gun as well as mightily laconic with words, could be played by Clint Eastwood. The owner of one of the big ranches could be played by Lee J. Cobb, while the boss of the Pine Tree, Thalia Mulvane — a tough-minded but outwardly honest woman — well, if Ava Gardner ever was a blonde, she’d fit the part perfectly.

   Playing the gunhand who seems to have a grudge against Cole from the start, none other than Lee Marvin. The other girl, young and wholesome, whom Cole is attracted to, perhaps Gloria Talbot, while Stub McKay, the only remaining cowboy on Cole’s brother’s ranch, well why not Stubby Kaye

   Besides a western, and a solid one at that, William Heuman’s story is also both a romance (see above) and a detective story. Who killed Cole’s brother, or rather, perhaps, who was he working for? The result is not spectacular in any sense, but as you can tell, it might make for a fairly good movie.

Bibliographic Notes:   William Heuman’s career in writing western fiction began with the pulp magazines, circa 1944, but when the pulps began to die out and Gold Medal came along, offering writers a new option, the paperback original, Heuman jumped on board almost immediately.

   Here’s tentative list of his work for Gold Medal:

Guns at Broken Bow, 1950.
Hunt the Man Down, 1951.
Roll the Wagons, 1951.
Red Runs the River, 1951.
Secret of Death Valley, 1952.
Keelboats North, 1953.
On to Santa Fe, 1953.
The Range Buster, 1954.
Ride for Texas, 1954.
Wagon Train West, 1955.
Stagecoach West, 1957.
Violence Valley, 1957.
Heller from Texas, 1957.

   Following and during his output from Gold Medal, Heuman continued writing westerns in paperback for Ace and Avon along with hardcovers for Avalon, many of those probably reprinted in paperback also.

 Posted by at 1:12 am
Jan 192015
 

RICHARD HIMMEL – The Rich and the Damned. Gold Medal s735, paperback original; 1st printing, January 1958.

   Of the eight novels Richard Himmel wrote for Gold Medal, five of them recounted the adventures of Johnny Maguire, a hard-nosed Chicago-based lawyer who grew up in a working class, blue collar neighborhood. If we can take The Rich and the Damned as being representative of the earlier books, none of which I’ve read at any time less than 40 years ago, he’s still touchy about his background if anyone brings it up.

   I’m not sure how representative this book is, though. It’s the last of the five, and even though the blurb on the front cover says, “Johnny Maguire is back, and once again mixed up with molls, and murder,” there are no molls in this, not a one, and no murder, either. In fact, there not even a crime in this book, even though (from the titles) all of the earlier books had him tackling crime of all kinds from all corners.

   The closest that anything that resembles a crime in The Rich and the Dammed takes place is when a hoodlum from Maguire’s youth has him beaten up in a futile attempt to make him reveal the terms of a industrial mogul’s will after he dies.

   In therein lies the story. Maguire has been a sometimes bedmate with the dead man’s daughter, but she’s not the only person set to inherit. One son (or stepson) is of the prodigal variety, and has been disowned. The other is a scholarly wimp (my word) who suddenly finds some legs to stand on, thanks to a new lady friend, whose eyes are probably more on the father’s fortune. The other daughter has been sheltered from the world, particularly men and it takes all of Maguire’s will power to resist when she begs him to show her what she has been missing.

   The mobster is working on behalf of a competitor trying to take over the company, and the conditions of the will are important. Surprisingly to everyone, the will leaves equal portions of the stock to each of the four, even though it is Rourke, Maguire’s red-headed girl friend, who has ever shown any interest in the company, and in fact it is she who has been running the firm in recent years, having learned the ropes by starting at the bottom.

   And Maguire, respected by all four of the beneficiaries of the will, is the one caught in the middle, and it is his working class background that formulates his philosophies toward the problems of the wealthy and well-heeled. Does he take advantage of the situation and make himself one of them, one of the rich and powerful? Or does he stick to his basic roots and let them go on squabbling and their not-so-merry way?

   Believe it or not, Richard Himmel was a writer good enough to make all of this interesting, very much so. Johnny Maguire makes a decision, and the book ends. What happens from there, we’ll never know. This is the last anyone has heard anything about Johnny Maguire.

Bio-Bibliographic Notes:

    The Johnny Maguire series –

I’ll Find You. Gold Medal, 1950.
The Chinese Keyhole. Gold Medal, 1951.
I Have Gloria Kirby. Gold Medal, 1951.
Two Deaths Must Die. Gold Medal, 1954,
The Rich and the Damned. Gold Medal, 1958.

   There is little to be learned about Johnny Maguire on the Internet. I found a review of I’ll Find You on Bill Crider’s blog, and not much else. I don’t think Bill will mind if I quote from his comments, one line only: “Gangsters are involved, and there’s a murder, but this isn’t really a crime novel. In its own twisted way, it’s a love story in the Gold Medal vein, with the emphasis on speed, with lots of raw emotion, with plenty of melodrama.” Given that statement, maybe I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was at the lack of criminal activity in this book also.

   As for the author himself, I found an online obituary for Richard Himmel to be very interesting. Besides being a writer, Himmel was for most of his life one of the country’s best known interior designers. Truth, believe it or not, is often stranger than fiction.

 Posted by at 12:34 am
Jan 172015
 
A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Max Allan Collins


FRANKLIN BANDY – Deceit and Deadly Lies. Charter, paperback original, 1978.

   Kevin Maclnnes is known as the “Lie King.” A specialist with the Psychological Stress Evaluator (lie detector), he makes a living by taking voice readings of people and assessing their truthfulness. For a handsome fee, he will aid any client — governmental or private — in a situation where getting at the truth is paramount; and the fee goes to support his elegant but enigmatic mistress, Vanessa.

   One of the subjects Maclnnes is asked to evaluate is brought to him by a New York assistant district attorney; the client is a cabby who claims to have overheard two men talking about an assassination plot, something “really big.” The man apparently is telling the truth, and Maclnnes, spurred by a combination of patriotism (he is a former army officer) and curiosity, aids the authorities by embarking on a search for one of the men described — a search that nearly costs him his lover and his life.

   Maclnnes is interesting, and so is his work. In the course of the novel, he aids a businessman in making a low bid on a tract of land (and suffers sleepless nights when the seller kills himself); rigs a voice test in such a way as to prove a battered wife accidentally killed her husband (he knows she is really guilty, and he loses sleep over that, too); helps a wealthy Mexican family find where the killer of their young son has hidden his body; and bugs a bedroom conversation between himself and his mistress to evaluate whether she really loves him.

   The uncertain relationship with Vanessa is a thread through the story, as are Maclnnes’s fears about misusing his skills.

   For all its merits, this novel could stand to be about 100 pages shorter. It is padded with Harold Robbins-like descriptions of expensive clothing, hotels, gourmet meals, and brand names of liquors and wines.

   There is also a gratuitous side trip into Maclnnes’s attempt to cure a temporary bout of impotence with a call girl, which causes us to lose track of the main focus of the narrative — finding out who is to be assassinated and stopping the killers. But on the whole, it’s a good rainy day book for those who like their settings luxurious and their characters sophisticated, if a trifle stereotypical.

   This novel won the MWA Edgar for Best Paperback Original of 1978. In addition, Franklin Bandy has written The Blackstock Affair (1980) and The Farewell Party (1980).

         ———
   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.

Bibliographic Notes:   The Blackstock Affair was the second and final recorded adventure of Kevin MacInnes. Bandy, who died in 1987, also wrote a book called The Shannonese Hustle (1978) and as Eugene Franklin (his first and middle names), three books in a series of cases solved by Berkeley Barnes and Larry Howe, about whom I know nothing.

 Posted by at 12:54 am
Jan 142015
 
THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


  D. B. OLSEN – Cats Don’t Smile. Doubleday Doran/Crime Club, hardcover, 1945. Mystery Novel Classic #93, digest-sized paperback, no date. Reprinted in Two Complete Detective Books, January 1946 (with She Fell Among Actors, by James Warren).

   Rachel and Jennifer Murdock, whose exploits — if Jennifer can be said to engage in exploits — Olsen has chronicled before and after this novel, go to Sacramento, Calif., to house-sit for Cousin Julia, who for reasons she doesn’t explain must leave the house and does not want her roomers left alone together.

   Miss Rachel is the active one of the pair, and she embroils herself in the roomers’ affairs and those of the next-door neighbors. Before she can meddle much, though, one of the roomers is murdered.

   For those who enjoy little-old-lady detectives, this should be a pleasing mystery, particularly if active lol’s are preferred. For my part, I have always thought Jane Marple was the perfect type. Not for her the burglary at dead of night or skulking in gardens eluding who knows what.

   The motive for murder is both interesting and unusual. However, I had difficulty in accepting the murderer, for reasons which I won’t go into since it would give away the murderer’s identity. Warning: Cat lovers may be upset by one of the incidents in the novel.

   (D. B. Olsen is a pseudonym of Dolores Hitchens.)

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 12, No. 1, Winter 1990.


Bibliographic Note:   The Murdock sisters, Jennifer and Rachel, appeared in thirteen mystery novels by D. B. Olsen between 1939 and 1956, all with “Cat” somehow worked in to the titles and all published by Doubleday and their Crime Club imprint. Cats in detective stories is not a new idea.

 Posted by at 2:10 am
Jan 132015
 
REVIEWED BY BARRY GARDNER:


LAURENCE SHAMES – Florida Straits. Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 1992. Dell, reprint paperback, 1993.

   Have you noticed how much good ink down-and-dirty novels set in Florida get? Ever wonder why? The easy answer is that lots of good writers are writing about it, but I rarely enjoy these books as much as others seem to, so I don’t like that one. I like the conspiracy theory better. Shames’ book, by the way, got rave reviews.

   Joey Goldman is the bastard son of a bigtime Mafia chief in NYC, and the half brother of the heir apparent, both of whom ignore him. He decides to start over in Florida, so he and his girl friend Sandra head for Key West and the pot of gold. It proves, elusive, though, and he has been reduced to taking a legit job when he finds himself caught between a gang boss and his bigshot half-brother, the latter having stolen 3 mil worth of emeralds from the former.

   What this story is, is the story of a Young Man Finding Himself. Klutz becomes Competent. Shames writes well, and has the wiseguy dialect down pat. The plot is believable, as is the slightly tacky atmosphere of Key West. Well and good, except he wants me to like Joey Goldman, and I don’t.

   Goldman is a junior-grade hood from a long line of hoods, and having him develop a few virtues doesn’t change that. He talks blithely of becoming a super-pimp (among other things) and doesn’t see anything wrong with it. Though he eventually decides not to be a wiseguy, it isn’t because he repents the way of life, he just realizes he isn’t equipped for it.

   With the exception of his girl (and even she is perfectly willing to live with and off criminal efforts), these are a bunch of jerks who prey on decent people. I don’t like people like that, and I don’t like people who want me to like them. OK?

– Reprinted from Ah, Sweet Mysteries #9, September 1993.


Editorial Comment:   This was the author’s first work of crime fiction, and the first of nine books in what is known as his “Key West” series, the most recent being Shot on Location, 2013. From one website it can be learned that:

    “In prior careers, Laurence has been a NYC cab driver, lounge singer, furniture mover, lifeguard, dishwasher, gym teacher and shoe salesman. Following these failed careers, he moved to writing on a full-time basis in 1976. Since then, he has made four different New York Times Bestseller lists, all writing under different pen names (and none of which were his own).”

 Posted by at 12:22 am
Jan 022015
 
FIRST YOU READ, THEN YOU WRITE
by Francis M. Nevins


   In the latter part of what is now last year, three women died, all of them in their nineties. Two were well-known mystery writers, the third was married to one of the best-known mystery writers of all time. Her name had been Rose Koppel, and she had been widowed for less than a year when she was invited to attend a New Year’s Eve party in Larchmont, New York and introduced to the only unattached man at the gathering, a man in his late sixties named Frederic Dannay whose spouse had also died recently.

   Something clicked between them and they began dating immediately. It was only somewhat later in their courtship that he told her that he was better known under the pen name of Ellery Queen. They were married in November 1975 at New York’s Plaza Hotel, although the marriage almost had to be postponed when the rabbi scheduled to perform the ceremony suddenly died of a heart attack.

   It’s not going too far to say that Rose saved Fred’s life. Fred and his cousin and collaborator Manfred B. Lee (1905-1971) had been fabulously successful writing as and about Ellery Queen, but Fred’s life had been far from a happy one. In 1940 he had been driving to Long Island to visit his mother when a car without lights and driven by a drunk, who turned out to be an AWOL serviceman without a license or insurance, hit his Buick head-on, leaving it unrecognizable.

   Fred had been so seriously injured that Walter Winchell on his national news program actually announced him as dead, and he had to spent months in the hospital recovering. That was a picnic compared to what happened next. In 1945 Fred’s first wife died of cancer, leaving him with two small children to raise. He married again a few years later and he and his second wife had a son who was born with brain damage and died at age six. In the early 1970s that wife also died of cancer. Fred began dating a woman he had known for a long time, and she too was diagnosed with cancer.

   Look at the photograph of him, taken around this time, that you’ll find on page 162 of my book Ellery Queen: The Art of Detection. Doesn’t he look like a character created by Cornell Woolrich, like a man without hope, waiting for the merciful release of death? Is it any wonder that when he and Rose met she found him so depressing and humorless? “I had never imagined such devastating loneliness,” she said. That is what Rose saved him from. Their marriage endured until his death, over the Labor Day weekend of 1982, at age 76.

   After they were married Fred and Rose seemed to be always together, and it was a rare occasion when I saw him without her at his side. She had been living in an apartment on 72nd Street in New York City since the early 1950s and insisted on keeping it after marrying Fred, a wise decision since it gave them a place to stay when they came into town for dinner or an MWA function or a show.

   She returned there after Fred’s death. On December 6 of 2014 she joined him. “Her death was quick and as painless as possible,” her daughter told me, “and my brother was there when she died… I was so lucky to have had a mother who could still recognize me and communicate with me and tell me she loved me every time we talked on the phone or saw each other.”

   Her memories of Fred did not die with her. Her account of My Life with a Man of Mystery (2010) includes a great deal of fascinating material on their meeting and courtship, their married life, their trips to California and Japan and Israel and Sweden, and his last days and death.

   I was there for a few of the events she describes, like the banquet at New York’s Lotos Club celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first Ellery Queen novel (The Roman Hat Mystery; 1929), and the occasion when Fred was awarded an honorary Ph.D., but for many of them her account is the only one we’re going to have.

   Clearly she misunderstood or misremembered a few things Fred told her, giving his best-known mystery anthology the title 101 Years of Entertainment, conflating a landmark EQMM story set in the black ghetto (Hughes Allison’s “Corollary,” July 1948) with another landmark story about all but openly gay characters (Philip MacDonald’s “Love Lies Bleeding,” November 1950) and telling us that the tale was published in 1943.

   But to most of what she describes Rose was a witness, and no one who loves Ellery Queen will want to miss her testimony. Her book doesn’t seem to be available on Amazon.com, but anyone interested in purchasing a copy should get in touch with Rose’s daughter, Dale Koppel. I’d prefer not to post her email address here, but leave a comment or contact Steve directly, and he’ll send it on to you.

***

   Of the two women mystery writers whose deaths occurred in the second half of last year, the one who died more recently was P.D. James, to whom I said goodbye in my December column. I didn’t find out until too late for that column that another of the great women of the genre, Dorothy Salisbury Davis, had died back in August at age 97.

   I didn’t know Dorothy well but had read her novels and stories with great pleasure, and both of us were among the speakers at the centenary symposium honoring the births of Fred Dannay and Manny Lee that was held at Columbia University in 2005. The last time I saw her was on a boat in the Hudson River, the site of an elegant MWA cocktail party which, in her late eighties or early nineties, she had driven from her home in Sneden’s Landing on the Palisades to attend. She and I and Ed Hoch and his wife sat together.

   Her most successful and perhaps finest novel was her third, A Gentle Murderer (1951). Late in life she told an interviewer that the idea for the book came to her when she noticed a man on the New York subway:

   “He had the look about him of St. Francis in dungarees. He had a package and it looked the shape of a hammer and I thought, ‘He could kill with that.’… I saw him get off the subway and I followed him. I saw him go into a large church called St. John of the Cross, around 56th Street and 8th Avenue.”

   A few months later A Gentle Murderer was finished. Interspersed with her novels were 20-odd short stories, most of them first published in EQMM and collected in Tales for a Stormy Night (1984). Apparently her last work of fiction was the 2007 short story “Dies Irae.”

   She had had to move to an assisted living facility about three years before her death but even after falling and breaking her hip she seemed to be doing reasonably well considering that she wasn’t that far from her own centenary.

   The lights go out, the lives go out. A new year begins. How many more?

 Posted by at 2:45 am
Dec 312014
 
Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:          


P. M. HUBBARD – The Dancing Man. Macmillan, UK, hardcover, 1971. Atheneum, US, hardcover, 1971.

   “This time I heard the noise of the leaves. It came quietly at first. I could not have heard it at all if the silence had not been so complete. It grew louder … getting nearer …”

   That evocative moment is the true voice of P. M. Hubbard, one of the most interesting thriller writers of his time and one too little known on this side of the Atlantic.

   Philip Michael Hubbard made his debut with the fine thriller Flush as May, and continued at the same high level throughout his career as a writer. Among his many books were the spy thriller Kill Claudio, the Gothic The Tower, Hive of Glass, High Tide, Whisper in the Glen and others.

   His novels have remarkably well drawn settings that are characters in themselves, Gothic atmosphere of the true definition of the term without a governess to be seen, often good bits about small sail boats, and interesting heroes who tend to be on the amoral side and not always the nicest of people. His secondary characters are often exceptionally well drawn and his villains human but with a Luciferian air.

   The Dancing Man is perhaps the best of his thrillers on all these accounts, the cast stripped down to a handful of individuals; the hero Mark Hawkins; his missing brother Dick; Merrion on whose land Dick has gone missing; Merrion’s virginal sister; Merrion’s sexy wife; and a local madman (according to fiction every village in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales has one) of the lurking threatening type.

   And of course two other characters: a Victorian house in northern Wales, and a megalithic statue on which is carved the figure of a dancing man: “Someone had carved a human figure, a matchstick man sketched in single strokes but still horribly alive. It danced on the stone holding its stick-like arms over its head and kicking its legs outward, its enormous penis stiffly in front of it.”

   Hubbard was a master of evoking and using settings, and here he has been compared to M. R. James and Arthur Machen in his ability to suggest something evil lurking just beyond the ken of the average man. A large neolithic circle also figures in the action, and a 9th century Latin edict.

   Hubbard also has a happy facility with words, calling the figure a “happy little ithyphallic manikin … consciously and deliberately devilish.” It’s a good example of the pleasure of reading the highly literate Hubbard, at once evoking the absurdity of the figure and the horror lurking behind it.

   Hubbard is a minimalist, his novels short, to the point, deftly drawn without burying the reader in extraneous detail. You learn just enough about Mark and Dick Hawkins and the people surrounding them to care what happens so that the suspense and atmosphere have real impact. Kill Claudio, a Buchanesque thriller, is practically a novella, and a hundred times more suspenseful than today’s overwritten over long thrillers. Above all the writing, the vivid settings, and often the hint of brimstone and sulfur lingering in the air make his novels unique among the thriller writers of his era.

   Dick Hawkins is fascinated by prehistory and the sinister megalith. Merrion is an archaeologist more interested in Medieval history and a Cistercian abbey that once stood near the house. The two men are at loggerheads in their obsessions. Into this walks Mark Hawkins, a catalyst like all Hubbard protagonists, who will trigger ancient violence and modern murder, and as in any Hubbard a novel hints of the erotic as obvious as that “ithyphallic manikin”, among the often amoral and violent set of characters. Merrion’s sister may be virginal but you can’t expect that to last in a Hubbard novel and may not mean quite the same as in other gothics.

   The Dancing Man builds to a fine creepy violent ending, happy of course, or as happy as Hubbard’s less than admirable heroes are likely to find.

   Anthony Boucher and other critics championed Hubbard, and with good reason. He was a superb writer and an exceptional storyteller capable of weaving a spell that held the reader for the short span of a Hubbard novel. If ever there was a ‘can’t put them down’ writer it was him. You may be grateful they are short, because I read most of them in one sitting.

   Flush as May, High Tide, and Kill Claudio all had American paperback editions, and The Dancing Man was a choice of the Mystery Book Club so those at least should not be too hard to find.

   If you don’t know Hubbard’s work look him up, I think you will be entranced by his dark atavistic world, amoral heroes, and sinister settings. He spun a good plot as well. I really can’t think of anyone to compare his work to, he’s an original, and unique in that I cannot think of another Gothic writer I would call a minimalist.

Editorial Note:   P. M. Hubbard, the man and his work, has also been covered on the primary Mystery*File website. Check it out here.

 Posted by at 1:53 am
Dec 142014
 
THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


MERLDA MACE – Motto for Murder. Julian Messner, hardcover, 1943. Detective Book Club, hardcover reprint, 3-in-1 edition, November 1943. Black Cat Detective #17, digest-sized paperback, 1945, abridged.

   The classic situation — isolated old house, blizzard raging outside, nasty old lady hated by most of those in the house, and escalating murders.

   Maria Hammond, the nasty old lady, has complete control of the family fortune and need not turn over any money until she is convinced that her grandchildren can handle the money responsibly. Since one of her children is a drunk who has married a money-hungry shrew and who has stolen $10,000 from the firm for which he works to provide the shrew with a fur coat in the hope that she will treat him kindly — a failed scheme, needless to say — it appears that the old lady is not completely in the wrong in not turning over the money at least to him.

   Anyhow, she invites the three grandchildren to spend Christmas with her, and two of the spouses also show up. Her intention, violating the spirit of the season and maybe even the letter of the law, is to tell the grandchildren she is changing her will so that they will be totally disinherited. Her lawyer is murdered, she disappears, and others start being murdered.

   Tip O’Neil, who works with the ne’er-do-well grandson, goes along for the weekend to make sure that the grandson does not run off to Canada. Since O’Neil is the only one not concerned in the murders, he does the investigating. On page 148, he says to himself: “Maybe it would be healthier for me to play dumb … on this investigation.” Strange. I had the feeling that is what he had been doing from the beginning.

   One among many oddities appears to be a peculiar law of New York State in regard to wills. O’Neil is asked to witness “the will” of Maria Hammond. While watched by her lawyer, O’Neil signs a piece of paper folded back so he can’t see what is written on it. He can’t be sure it’s a will, and he certainly isn’t witnessing her signing it.

   Deeck’s Law No. 1 states: Beware of authors who use exclamation points frequently in narrative! Mace is a big violator!

   (A motto, by the way, is a piece of candy around which is wrapped a fortune, making it somewhat similar to a fortune cookie. It was apparently old-fashioned even in 1945.)

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 12, No. 1, Winter 1990.


Bibliographic Notes: This was the only novel that Timothy “Tip” O’Neil appeared in. His day job was as a special investigator for a Manhattan-based investment firm. The author’s other two mysteries featured a continuing series character named Christine Anderson. She may have been the blonde in Blondes Don’t Cry, but other than that, no other information is readily available.

MERLDA MACE. Pseudonym of Madeleine McCoy, 1910?-1990?

       Headlong for Murder. Messner, 1943. [Christine Anderson]
       Motto for Murder. Messner, 1943.
       Blondes Don’t Cry. Messner, 1945 [Christine Anderson]

 Posted by at 3:00 am
Dec 102014
 

TIMOTHY HARRIS – Good Night and Good-Bye. Delacorte, hardcover, 1979. Dell, paperback, 1980. TV movie: CBS, 1988, as Street of Dreams (with Ben Masters as “Kyd Thomas.”)

   A book more solidly “in the Raymond Chandler tradition” ishard to imagine. From the opening impact of the first page of Chapter One to the ending that comes as inevitably as the passage of time to its sadly depressing conclusion, there is not a single doubt that Timothy Harris has read, devoured, and assimilated the complete works of the master.

   This is not meant as disparagement. The tone and style are Chandler’s. The prose and dialogue are not, quite, but if they aren’t, they are Harris’s own, in a revised and updated typically Californian tale of modern morality.

   Private eye Thomas Kyd, like his Elizabethan namesake, may have a talent for melodrama, but he lives it as well, instead of just telling it. There is a girl named Laura, and it is she whom the story is about. She is a junkie, and a liar, and she is in trouble.

   She meets Kyd, who helps, but she marries a wealthy movie writer named Paul Sassari instead. He is murdered soon after. As she says, “People don’t get much out of knowing me.”

   Kyd is a master of lost causes, a Sir Galahad on horse-back, a champion of ladies in distress, but, as he soon discovers, he is not truly a denizen of the fast, jet-paced world of drugs, easy money, and expensive women.

   On the other hand, since he is familiar with life in the shade of shabby sidewalks and sordid secrets, he almost makes out okay. Finer entertainment for the confirmed private eye aficionado is also hard to imagine.

Rating:   A

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 3, May/June 1981 (very slightly revised).


Bio-Bibliographic Notes:   There was but one other book in the series: Kyd for Hire (Dell, paperback, 1978) but published earlier in the UK in hardcover as by Hyde Harris (Gollancz, 1977).

   The two other books by Harris included in Hubin are paperback novelizations of movies: Steelyard Blues (1972) and Heat Wave (1979). According to IMDb, Harris was also the screenwriter for ten films, including Trading Places and Kindergarten Cop.

 Posted by at 8:42 pm